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Protecting soldiers with ceramics

November 20, 2014
Source: ASM International

Robert Speyer, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering, Atlanta, and his research group are investigating novel methods for making body armor strike faces for use by the military and others.

They are studying boron carbide, the third-hardest material on earth, and their research has resulted in patented techniques for making highly effective armor. One outcome of their efforts is Verco Materials LLC, an Atlanta-based startup that produces strike-face armor for personnel protection as well as for ongoing research and development.

The most critical quality of effective body armor strike faces is hardness, meaning resistance to permanent shape change when a focused compressive force is applied. Hardness is the key to preventing the armor from flowing out of the way when struck by high-speed projectiles. They produced lightweight ceramic plates that can stop an armor-piercing rifle round traveling on the order of 2000 mph—a capability that affords a high degree of protection for U.S. soldiers in battle zones.

This armor consists of two parts—a ceramic strike face and a fiber-reinforced polymer backing. The exceptional degree of hardness of the strike face was developed using a process that sinters (consolidates) boron carbide powder compacts under carefully controlled thermal and atmospheric conditions. That phase is followed by compressing with a high pressure/high temperature gas. The end result is a boron carbide ceramic with no remaining porosity and very high hardness.

Image caption — Diagram showing what happens to bullets when hitting armor. Energy from the bullet damages the armor, but stops the bullet. The armor plate must be replaced, but has protected its wearer.

Subject Classifications

Industries and Applications | Aerospace and Defense

Materials Properties and Performance | Physical Properties

Nonmetallic Engineering Materials | Ceramics

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